Food cravings, or seductions as I like to call them, usually come in cycles. Some hit every 24 hours, usually in the evenings, others like chocolate cravings hit on monthly hormonal cycles and there are even yearly craving cycles. It may surprise you to know that breaking these cycles has nothing to do with having enough will power to overcome them. Timing and biology have the largest roles in controlling daily binges.

Indulge me for a moment while I whip up a daily scenario of what I imagine a day in your life may be like if you are someone whose midsection has expanded over and beyond your belt. Okay, you get up in the morning to prepare to go to work. As usual you skip breakfast because you just don't have time and oh what the heck, I will save some calories anyway. You are in a hurry because you probably didn't get up early enough so you are rushing out the door to go sit in traffic for an hour or so. Then you finally get to the office where you are hit by the bagel tray and the candy machine. You grab one or two of those items and some coffee and get to work. Or you just get the coffee and wait until your late morning hunger craving starts and grab what is now an old dried out bagel and some M&Ms from your co-workers’ always full candy bowl on her desk or the candy machine. By the time all of this has taken place it has probably been a good 12 or more hours since your last real meal. Do you get where I am going with this yet? Stay with me. Next it’s time for lunch and you are famished so anything will do because your blood sugar is spiking all over the place. You’re now craving carbs and sugar and fat all at the same time. Your co-worker suggests going out to grab lunch and you say, “Yeah! Let's go to the burger or pizza place down the street,” where you binge or overeat on a cheeseburger with sauce cooked in grease and fried onion rings dripping with enough heavy oil to lube your car. Okay, now you’re back at work and ready to tackle the rest of the day. You start working and then suddenly you realize you’re trying very hard not to fall asleep face down on your desk. Do you feel like a yo-yo at the end of a string yet? Next, 3:30 or 4 o'clock rolls around and you’re having a craving and need something to get you through the rest of the day. Here we go again for another round. You quickly grab a handful of the ever-so-present M&M's on so-and-so’s desk and if that isn’t enough, you go to a vending machine, or to the kitchen for leftover cookies from an earlier staff meeting. With all of that your blood sugar is once again spiking. Insulin is desperately trying to get into the cells of your body in order to control all of the sugar that you slammed yourself with. Since it’s just too much it instead is sent into the bloodstream where it will eventually be stored as fat. When insulin is busy trying to get the sugar into the cells it slows down your body’s ability to burn fat. If your insulin is working efficiently, it quickly stores the sugar coming from whatever food you just ate, then quickly goes away so fat burning can resume. Okay, on with the rest of your day. You get home from work and now it’s time to have dinner but you decide you’re hungry again and want to snack before then. The merry-go-round you’ve been on all day has produced another craving. Typically people with this craving problem will go for cheese, chips or god forbid, some more candy. This snack almost fills them up but they go ahead and finish up dinner anyway. Before you know it, you’re craving something sweet again, so let's have some dessert! Later you want another snack that you know you don't really need and it happens the same way the next day and the next day and the next. Once these cravings arrive predictably every day, you find yourself planning your next binge. These habits are not cued by hunger but by time and your surroundings. These are learned behaviors and this type of merry-go-round schedule can be broken.
Whatever merry-go-round you are on you can get off it anytime you want to. Here are six key ideas you can start with:

1)  Be sure to make time to eat a healthy breakfast. Choose foods with a low Glycemic Index. This means how quickly foods release their natural sugars into the bloodstream using a number called the Glycemic Index or GI. These types of foods release their sugars slowly over a longer period of time, therefore you maintain an even amount of energy and you don't have spikes or crashes in your blood sugar during the day causing cravings. Eat an adequate amount of food especially early in the day (in my next discussion I will post a list of some of these foods and the GI numbers that coincide with them).

2)  Change the people and places in your life that tend to trigger your binges. If you are alone, arrange to be with someone or go to a lecture, library or take a walk or a run. If being at home triggers sitting on the couch, snacking and watching TV, then go somewhere else.

3)  Break your schedule. You need a new pattern, not just with food, but also with time. If you stay in the same schedule, your internal clock will wake up cravings right on schedule. You have to break out of your time of vulnerability.

4)  Get plenty of exercise. Run, walk, and go to the gym with a friend. Exercise lifts mood. After a good workout your body feels like you accomplished something important. You can feel the work your muscles have done, the air in your lunges, and the heat in your skin. You feel calmer and more resolved and you get a bit of an endorphin effect that dissolves depression and anxiety. You feel better than on sedentary days and you’re motivated to stick with healthier habits.

5)  Go to bed an hour earlier. Fatigue fuels cravings. Plenty of sleep insures muscle repair. If you are sedentary your sleep will be more restless.

6)  Don't seduce yourself by leaving little presents of the very foods you would like to get away from by having them lying around in your cupboards or in your desk drawer at work. That is a sign that you have not made up your mind for a real change.

As you can see the focus here is on time and the times you eat. If you plan for your time of vulnerability and break up the cues that lead to binging, you’re on your way to controlling the problem.